Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu nationalist

When logic snaps, rational discourse stumbles. Why is it perfectly acceptable to applaud a Muslim nationalist, but denigrate a Hindu nationalist? Either both terms are right,  or both wrong.

Mahatma Gandhi gave "Muslim nationalism"  institutional credibility when, in the fractured decade after the Khilafat movement, Muslims who believed in him formed the All-India Nationalist Muslim Party on 27 and 28 July 1929, with Dr M.A. Ansari at the helm. Our present vice president, Hamid Ansari, belongs to this family.   

Gandhi was father of an ideology that knit the groundwork of   modern India. His moral compass was set on a firm axis: politics without religion was immoral. Among the first to be impressed by this proposition were the maulvis who later banded under Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind; their alliance would flower during the non-cooperation struggle.  Hindu and Muslim are birth identities; they do not change, unless one becomes an atheist. But nationalism, a political concept, can vary. Gandhi did not. From 1915, the year he entered Indian public life, to 1948, when he was assassinated, he believed that India must be a land where all faiths co-existed as equals, guided by sarva dharma sambhav.

Gandhi's nationalism was the antithesis of communalism. He was distressed to the point of agony by the slow drift within the Muslim elite towards separatism. This culminated in partition when  Jinnah reduced "Muslim nationalism" to "Muslim nation". It was a visible reduction, philosophically, intellectually and finally geographically. Gandhi promised Muslims honour and equality in a nation from Khyber to Chittagong; Jinnah's prescription eventually reduced Pakistan to a  sliver of land on either side of the Indus, wracked by fundamentalism and riven by insecurity.

The difference between "Hindu nationalism" and "Hindu nation" is equally uncomplicated. If anyone wants to be a Hindu nationalist, offer a warm welcome; if the call is for a Hindu nation, point out that religion is ineffective as a basis for nationhood. Pakistan is a good example. Indeed, if religion worked as a glue, why on earth would there be 22 Arab nations? Hindu extremism existed in Gandhi's time, but it never got much traction beyond the fringe; and it could not, ipso facto, seek secession.

Gandhi would have been puzzled by any suggestion that Hinduism  was an obstacle to secularism; his Hinduism was an inexhaustible well of brotherhood, just as his colleague  Maulana Azad offered Islam as a superb rationale for inter-faith harmony.  Both used a faith-influenced dialectic almost unconsciously. Hindu-majority India is not secular because Gandhi was secular; Gandhi was secular because India is secular.

Gandhi was proud to be a  Hindu. He promised Ram Rajya, not some variation of a fashionable western dictum, whether Marxist or Fabian. Ram Rajya was a metaphor for prosperity and equality, not subjugation. Gandhi did not  shy away from caste. His tongue only partly in  cheek, he told the Shafi faction of the Muslim League on 22 February 1931: "Brethren, I am abania, and there is no limit  to my greed. It had always been my dream and my heart's desire to speak not only for 21 crores but for 30 crores of Indians." He was answering the charge that he spoke only for Hindus.  

Nor did Gandhi's disciple and heir, Jawaharlal Nehru, think  that the prefix 'Pandit' would stain his status as a secular  icon. Privately, Nehru was more agnostic than believer, but learnt from Gandhi that he could not sneer at, let alone abandon, his Brahmin identity. India is a land of the faithful. Those who today feel 'Pandit' might be an embarrassment have not seen Durga Puja in secular Calcutta.

Strangely, those Muslim League stalwarts who were determined to parade every mark of their religious identity as a fundamental right, spread the canard that Gandhi's Ram Rajya would enslave  Muslims. We see variations all the time, among far lesser beings, as  vocal networks control debate, and stoke a fear psychosis that suits those who think the Muslim vote is better sought through fear than development.  

The insidious power of hysteria sent Indian Muslims en masse towards the separatist Muslim League in the 1946 elections.  Gandhi was reviled and taunted along the way. An important caveat is necessary, however. The 1946 franchise was restricted; only about 11% had the right to vote: landowners, rate-payers,  graduates; the elite. How would elections have gone if Gandhi's masses, the poor, who often have better political judgement than those better off,  had voted?

Faith does not make us communal, human nature does. A politician has as much right to be a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian as any other citizen. Any doubt  about an aspirant to power can be cleared by a simple question: is he committed tosarva dharma sambhav or not? If the answer is unclear, vote for someone else.

Let those Indians who want to pray, do so; let those who want to watch television instead, switch on.  Faith is a freedom.  Let us celebrate this freedom with a smile, not a snarl.


Vijay Dwivedi said...

Dear sir, Thanks for a good read. I thank you for my personal reasons too. I am a hindu and yes I was confused. I was confused and afraid to talk about my faith even among my friends and peers, as I thought I would be branded as someone nonsecular or associated with a particular brand or a particular group,which is not true. I believe in my faith and I believe that others have got all the rights in the world to believe in their faith. Thank you sir once again for writing on this topic and that too in so simple and clear way.

Vevek Paul said...

Believers of Secularism do not understand faith. Religion induces faith. Nation building cannot be devoid of religion hence sarva dharma sambhav. Tale of two Gujarati banias who have mesmerised the nation with development agenda when likes of Jinnah and his contemptaries today resort to fear psychosis for their own wealth creation.

Ashutosh said...

Today we can't relate to a Mahatma (Gandhi) Pandit (nehru) or Maulana (Azad) campaigning the cause of a secular India. Today's definition of secularism would have counted all of them among fundamentalists..

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Akbar

This is to bring to your attention to the comments section of your latest write-up (same as this one).

Intolerance and bigotry is in full flow in all their 'majesty'. Any criticism of the article or presenting a contrary view or merely pointing out the deletion of comments are being deleted on the grounds (in double quick time) on the grounds that it was 'offensive'. Reading those comments (the short ime they remain in view) did not contain any profanities nor any other unacceptable language. I am not sure who this overzealous "champion' of Hindu Nationalism is? Is it some moderator or the comment gets deleted on reaching a threshold of number of votes by the visitors or ...........?

This particular blog of yours is creating records of sorts. I am not sure whether you have access to the deleted comments. If you do, then it would an eye-opener for you to check out or you keep a vigil for sometime to see for yourself.

Disgusting to the say the least.

Anand Vijoy said...

Well..indians are incomplete race,they have always been like this.where does religion come ? Aamir khan is a Moslem ,why do we like him ? Extremist and Terrorist have no religion,in riot I have myself seen Hindu looting a fellow Hindu's shop .Just because he is anti social /anti national man ,such people must be dealt strictly by society and law enforcement agency.where is the problem, it pains me when I see ungrateful indians abusing Mahatma gandhi .Mhatma Gandhi was a nationalist, he had real love for oppressed Gandhi,in Africa,In India In Moslems In humanity
Narendra Modi is opportunist, he is a shrewd politician,power hungry Monster,he is neither A TRUE Hindu nor a Nationalist .BJP is intellectually bankrupt party. The irresponsible water citizens R behaving i suspect if voted to power BJP would. Follow godhra model in the country.

Venkat Krishnan said...

I am not able to understand the need for discourse on nationalism or the context of how nationalism is being defined today. By no stretch of imagination can we ever look at nationalism as defined or practiced by stalwarts such as Gandhi or Azad. Today's fractured India, fractured on all parameters (religion, caste, race, community, language, state) where the politicians are busy trying to pander to each of this section, it is quite difficult to see nationalism.

I think that rather than to ponder on the imponderable, we rather get stuck into the more important question of development, non-corrupt and efficient administration.

It is important that the political arguments of today are following this thread.

Maybe, expecting sanity to prevail is by itself insane....

Anonymous said...

My comment in TOI blog was removed as it was deemed "offensive". Here I will try and reconstruct it, but will keep it short. Before the L K Advani' rath yatra and certainly before partition(*), there would not have been any issue of someone had stood up and proclaimed to be a Hindu or a Muslim Nationalist. The rath yatra, followed by demolition of the Babri Masjid, the atmosphere in the country has been vitiated so badly on religious lines, that Modi's assertion has to be seen in the light of the RSS ideologym which challenges the very idea of India. Full marks to him though, for being truthful for what he stands for.

* Before the British left and the constitution was adopted in 1949. the idea of India was hazy. There were many narratives as to what India would be after independence. Hence, any adjective (religious, regional or an other) attached to Nationalism would not have raised any eyebrows.

Indian said...

Dear MJ Akbar

Your point is well taken but the fact is that the fundamentalism has been perpeuated by the so called secular parties, which unfortunately are neither secular nor Nationalist. I for one have no faith in the Nationalism of Mrs Sonia Gandhi when her son in law is amassing wealth at the cost if the Nation. These pseudosecular parties have time and again used the term minorities to signify the differences. Infact, no govt. forms should have a column on religion. There should be only one for Nationality.
Gandhi's Nationalisn apart. He made 2 fundamental mistakes by denying Subhash Chandra Bose and then Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel to favour Jawahar Lal Nehru and those were the first seeds of corruption in modern India.